Fletcher helps Zimbabwe take baby steps

Former England coach Duncan Fletcher has returned to his roots at the Harare academy, bent on strengthening Zimbabwe's cricket development.

updated: May 18, 2010 16:18 IST
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Former England coach Duncan Fletcher has returned to his roots at the Harare academy, bent on strengthening Zimbabwe's cricket development.

But the ex-Zimbabwe skipper was not working with the current national team, which is optimistic of a return to the Test match arena after a four-year absence.

Instead he was guiding young prospects, from 15 to 18 years old, who have all been inspired by seeing former teenage star Elton Chigumbura ascend to the captaincy of the national one-day international team.

Bright-eyed youngsters gathered around Fletcher under a large tent on the edge of four practice nets set up on the square of the Academy ground, now rather grandly known as the High Performance Centre.

They were filled with the knowledge that Chigumbura played first class cricket at 15 years old.

And they were well aware of dramatic events in 2001 that brought them to this opportunity in their young cricket lives.

It has been nine years, when they were at junior school, since Zimbabwe cricket was thrown into turmoil.

Sackings, strikes, walkouts, allegations of racism and financial irregularities, hastily assembled raw replacements, and the inevitable embarrassing results led to the refusal of countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka to fulfil Test match commitments against them.

Fletcher opted not to discuss his role.

"I don't talk to journalists," he said.

However, HPC director Kevin Curran, another former Test player, was more forthcoming.

"Basically you cannot create quality players overnight," he said.

"We need to work from schools level and look further forward. It all takes time, lots of time, to bring the best out of young cricketers, to build them to international level. So the major factor for us is not so much talent as preparation.

"We need to identify potential at 15 years old and then work together towards achievement of this programme."

By "together" he meant Fletcher - "probably the best coach in the world" - who teamed up with national coach Alan Butcher.

They are assisted by Curran, former Zimbabwe Test all-rounder and captain Heath Streak, opening Test batsman Alistair Campbell, the recently short-term contracted spinner Brian Jennings, prolific batsman David Houghton and others.

These men are, or have been, working on a near-daily basis since the formation last year of a franchised national professional domestic league.

Curran revealed that the country might soon benefit from contracting three or four international stars into the league during their respective off seasons.

Despite all the efforts Zimbabwe still needs help.

Their team was recently beaten in an ODI series by West Indies 4-1 while in the World Twenty20 they made a quick exit, though this did follow two victories in warm-up games, against Pakistan and Australia.

There are therefore glimmers of hope coming from short versions of the game, but nothing yet in matches against international opposition played over three or four days.

Local critics are puzzled why this is not paramount in the development programme.

Meanwhile, starting on May 28, Zimbabwe will take on India and Sri Lanka in a crucial 50-overs series at home, followed by two Twenty20 clashes with India in Harare.

They will need to be competitive at the very least and this means innings of at least 200. There is very little expectation of a victory from their projected four ODI matches, but solid performances are imperative.